So You Think You Can Write A Novel?

NaNoWriMo LogoThere’s something simultaneously (and in equal parts) amusing and horrifying about the following video. It’s an experience we’ve all lived as the advisor and also hope that at some stage we haven’t been the completely delusional advisee.

Advisee is probably the wrong name for the wannabe novelist, who isn’t listening and isn’t accepting advice. He instead declares that he’s quit his job, is just going to pump out a best-selling novel, that agents and publishers will be scrabbling to publish his work, and that even though he’s only written one page and can’t spell very well, they should see and reward his genius immediately (or words to that effect and that will induce in you guffaws).

Those of us who try to earn a living as writers find such people offensive and, well, completely delusional. The reality of the job and the likelihood of succeeding is bleak. Even more so, I realised, when I saw the issue from another angle the other day.

In speaking with The Book Show’s Ramona Koval, Salon.com co-founder and senior writer Laura Miller noted that NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, encourages a whole new burst of wannabe writers to churn out work. Literary agents reportedly get an influx of novels shortly after this annual event, which frustrates them no end, because the work, although it may eventually have merit, needs refining, incubating, and a damn good edit.

I also find it ironic that the only book the founder of NaNoWriMo has published is not a novel, but a non-fiction book about how to write one. It goes back to my embittered university professor’s adage that we should forget about trying to write the Great Australian Novel because nobody will read it. It’s works for non-fiction, ones based on quirky ideas or how-to principles that will attract the greatest readership.

But I digress. What concerned me more in The Book Show conversation was how Miller said that while we have no shortage of writers or people who want to be writers, what we have is a dire shortage of readers. The average American reportedly reads less than one book per year (how, I don’t know—that figure truly boggles and bewilders my mind) and Australians are probably only slightly better.

I have been (and am) so concerned with both committing semi-coherent words to paper and getting those semi-coherent words published for payment that I never really stopped to consider that regardless of whether or not I achieve said furnishing the page with semi-coherent words or finding a willing publisher, there’s no point if there’s no reader. If people are neither buying nor reading books, you can be the best writer around and it still won’t count for anything.

Which raises the question: How do we get people to read?